Living with a Latex allergy
Around 1% of the population are thought to have a latex allergy, with symptoms ranging from mild to severe. The allergy usually develops over time, so it’s useful to understand the causes and symptoms – especially if you’re a nurse or work in another profession where you need to wear latex gloves.
Our handy guide explains from common triggers to how to manage the condition.
What is Latex Allergy?
A latex allergy is caused by the body’s reaction to certain proteins found in natural rubber latex, which is a liquid derived from rubber trees. These proteins are also found in other plants and certain tropical fruits, such as avocado, banana, kiwi, passion fruit and melon.
Individuals can get a reaction either through direct contact with latex products, such as rubber gloves and balloons, or through inhaling latex particles that come from these products. Common items that produce a reaction also include rubber bands and condoms.
Latex allergy reactions vary between individuals, depending on what level of latex sensitivity they have and the amount of the latex protein they have been in contact with.
Reactions can generally be split into three categories:
- Irritant contact dermatitis. This isn’t actually an allergic reaction as such, but a skin condition caused by repeated exposure to the chemicals within latex products such as gloves. It is the least dangerous reaction and usually results in dryness, itching, burning, scaling and lesions where the product has touched the skin.
- Allergic contact dermatitis. This type is caused by a delayed reaction to the additives used in the latex processing. The symptoms of this are similar to that of contact dermatitis, but are more severe, can spread to other parts of the body and last longer. Often cited as being similar to severe eczema, in some occasions it can cause the skin to weep.
- Immediate allergic reaction. This is the most serious and dangerous reaction an individual can have. In some cases individuals get the hayfever-like symptoms of rhinitis, conjunctivitis, cramps and a severe rash known as hives. If someone has an anaphylactic response, these can progress to include an erratic heart rate, tremors, chest pain and breathing problems. If not treated, this can result in anaphylactic shock and even death.
Food Related Risks
Latex-Food syndrome is the name for a reaction to certain foods that contain latex proteins. It can also work the other way – if you have a particular food allergy you may also develop a latex allergy. Reactions range from oral allergy syndrome (itching, burning and swelling of the lips, tongue and throat) to life threatening anaphylaxis. The only real treatment is to avoid these foods as much as possible and carry injectable epinephrine (also known as adrenaline) in the form of an EpiPen.
Who Is More At Risk?
There are certain groups of people who are more likely to develop a latex allergy:
- People who already have an allergy such as eczema, asthma, hayfever or a food allergy
- People who come into contact with latex as part of their job e.g. those working in the rubber industry or as health care workers
- Patients who have undergone multiple surgical operations or other invasive procedures
- Patients with spina bifida or urogenital abnormalities
How Is It Diagnosed?
A latex allergy, like many other types of skin allergy, can be diagnosed by a doctor studying your family history and assessing the nature of your reaction. A skin prick or blood test can be taken to determine for certain, but they should be done under close supervision due to the risk of reaction.
It can be helpful to bring in an item you had a reaction to when you visit your doctor. This will help them recommend other items to avoid.
Managing the Allergy
There is no cure for this allergy, so for many people the best treatment is prevention. To minimise the risk of exposure, it’s worth checking with suppliers before buying products and using items made with alternative materials.
Here is a list of household items that may contain latex:
- Rubber sink plugs and bath mats
- Rubber or rubber-grip utensils
- Rubber electrical leads or water hosepipes
- Bath mats and rugs that have a rubber backing
- Toothbrushes with rubber grips or handles
- Rubber bath toys
- Sanitary towels
- Adult undergarments
- Waterproof mattress covers
- Undergarments, socks and other clothing with elastic
- Adhesives such as glue
- Dolls or toys
- Elastic or rubber bands
- Mouse and keyboard cords and wrist pads
- Rubber stamps
- Keyboards and calculators with rubber keys or switches
- Pens with comfort grips or any rubber coating
- Remote controls for TVs or DVD players
- Camera, telescope or binocular eyepieces
- Bathing caps, goggles and elastic in swimsuits
You may be prescribed drugs or creams to deal with the symptoms, depending on what type of reaction you have. For contact dermatitis, antihistamines and/or corticosteroids can help soothe symptoms, while severe anaphylactic reactions may be treated with adrenaline.
Inform your doctor, dentist, hairdresser, physiotherapist, masseuse or anyone else that might wear latex gloves around you of your allergy. They will need to find a different form of hand protection.
Wearing some form of medical ID jewellery is a great way to quickly inform first aiders or hospital workers of your allergy in an emergency situation, when you may not be able to tell them yourself.
The information in our blog articles are personal information use only and are not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment plans. We are not medical health practitioners or mental health providers. If you’re worried about a potential medical condition, contact your GP or call an ambulance in an emergency situation.